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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Private Island"

2013/08/31

This movie is metaphorical pornography. It's literal pornography, too, and indeed, it's those explicit sex scenes that leave the most deliberate impression, but "Private Island" as a whole is about voyeurism. Three close friends come to Okinawa to have a good time, and that's exactly what happens. Yes, the sex is a probably inevitable outcropping of this, but there's plenty of time spent at the beach, savoring the local food, enjoying the high class services, and engaging in the wild tropical hobbies that presumably make up a fun time at Okinawa.

There were times during this movie where I was wondering whether this was supposed to be an actual narrative film or an incredibly elaborate infomercial dedicated to selling the audience on the concept of a vacation in Okinawa. As obviously commercial as "Private Island" is, its value as a film is difficult to unearth, because it begs the question- if a movie is an explicitly shallow commercial fantasy, can it still have value as a film?

I'm still not sure how to answer that question, honestly. Still, there's a certain everywoman quality in our female leads that begs some empathy and identification, even if there isn't anything that could exactly be called a conflict. But this ironically creates a much more honest movie than what we might get from a typical travelogue style movie that promises spiritual fulfillment, or some other such nonsense, from something as utterly inconsequential as a short vacation. Most people take vacations to relax, not learn life-changing lessons. And there's a certain normalcy in the actions of the characters in this movie that reflects this very well.

This is most obvious in the painstaking detail dedicated in the camerawork and music to exaggerating the tropical atmosphere that abounds in Okinawa- or at least the part of it that the main characters directly interact with. None of this production work is particularly high-quality, but the purpose is clearly to make the situation look fun and attractive, and to that extent, the movie succeeds admirably. While there's little in the way of plot I can remember most of the ways the characters were able to entertain themselves and make lasting memories.

"Private Island" also gets credit for acknowledging that not everything about an amazing vacation is necessarily memorable. Indeed, sometimes this stuff may even inspire ambivalence in the retrospect of memory. I was rather shocked to find that, after a few explicitly pornographic scenes, the movie just stops making them, instead resorting to simple cutaways that leaves the exact execution of the latest sexual encounter to the viewer's imagination.

Regardless of why this film was created, its basically shallow light-hearted tone makes it ideal fare for the kind of woman who would find an unattached getaway to Okinawa with a couple of girlfriends to be an ideal fun time. The pornographic elements also offer something that may make men amenable to the viewing experience. I would imagine that any male disinterest in the girl talk would basically be ameliorated by the realization that not only are there attractive women in bikinis, but these woman will also be having sex on-screen. Consequently, the appeal this movie could potentially have for significant others watching together is quite obvious. Commercial as "Private Island" may feel, for many, that probably isn't going to be much of an issue.

Review by William Schwartz

"Private Island" is directed by Han Sang-hee and features Son Eun-seo, Shin So-yul and Oh Da-eun.

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